Three Meanings of “the Sign of Jonah”

In this morning’s Gospel, from Luke 11:29-32, Jesus mentions the “Sign of Jonah”:

Pieter Lastman, Jonah and the Whale (1621)

When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah became a sign to the men of Nin′eveh, so will the Son of man be to this generation. The queen of the South will arise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nin′eveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.

There’s a three-fold meaning to that sign:

  1. It’s a prophesy about the Death and Resurrection of Christ. Jonah spent three days in the belly of the fish, and then returned to the earth (Jonah 1:17), prefiguring the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus makes this connection pretty explicitly in Matthew 12:40.
  2. It’s a prophesy about the destruction of Jerusalem, forty years after the rejection of Christ. Jonah’s message to Nineveh was, “Yet forty days, and Nin′eveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4). Christ warns the people of Jerusalem of their wickedness (including in Luke 11:29, above), and says that the Temple will be destroyed (Matthew 24:1-2). Jerusalem doesn’t convert, and forty years after the death of Christ, Jerusalem (including the Temple) is destroyed by the Romans. This also fulfills Psalm 95:10-11.
  3. It’s a prophesy about the salvation of the Gentiles, and the resentment that this will cause.  When the Ninevites repent, God has mercy upon them (Jonah 3:10). Jonah resents this, because they’re Gentiles (Jonah 4:1). When the same mercy is offered the Gentiles in Acts 10, it leads to the same resentment amongst some of the Jewish believers (Acts 11:1-3).
Scripture is amazing. That is all.


  1. Awesome! Thanks for sharing.

    I had a similar moment of WOW when I attended a bible study that was talking about sacrifice in salvation history. Normally, most people think the first and oldest sacrifice mentioned in the bible is that of Cain and Abel Gen 4:3. My teacher said No! The first sacrifice was in the garden of Eden. God sacrificed an animal to cover the sin of a naked Adam and Eve. Gen 3:21

    How fitting that God gave/taught us the first.

    1. The notion of the skin given by God to Adam and Eve is an interesting one that begs the question “who is the sacrifice for and who is offering it?” It can’t be an offering on behalf of Adam and Eve to God because elsewhere God Tells others to make offering to Him and, generally, the faithful made offerings in thanksgiving to God or to praise God (not the case with A & E). It can’t be from God to anyone other than Himself; is it a prefigurement / OT typology of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross?? I wonder how your teacher would answer this question…

      BTW, the commentaries that I found on the subject from Early Church Fathers on Gen 3:21 don’t allude to sacrifice at all (see The Garments of Skin Created by God, Ephrem the Syrian; Garments of Skin as a Punishment of Pride, Augustine; The Garments of Skin a Symbol of Mortality, Origen; Disorder and Order, Gregory of Nyssa).

  2. In the Septuagint, Jonah gives Nineveh three days rather than forty but while Jerome complained and followed the Hebrew at that textual dilemna, Augustine saw the dilemna as God intended and its meaning as ” look for both the forty and three in the Messiah”…Christ fasted forty days and rose on the third. Remember this when someone insists the traditional date of Christ dying in 33 AD. Then the forty doesn’t work for Jerusalem’s destruction which is 37 years after 33. Here’s Akin on that problem:

  3. My long answer to you vanished. No.2 above in the original piece sees the forty days of Jonah predicting the forty years til Jerusalem. I like it but it has the problem of its really being 37 years after Christ’s warning to Jerusalem….but maybe we could say 40 years from Christ beginning the ministry at Cana.

  4. As it happened in Jerusalem in 70 AD, so will it happen in Rome within a generation if they dont repent of their homosexuality and greed. the die is cast. will they repent?

    1. Are you God? Only God knows when sin is filled up or complete and only then does He destroy cities or masses. Proof…two passages. The first is about the destruction of the Canaanites. The second is about Jerusalem. In both God not a mere human is talking:

      Gen. 15:16 ” But in the fourth generation they shall come here again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”. God to Abraham

      Matt.23:32. Christ to Jerusalem: ” Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.”

      Memorize them. He does not kill for longstanding sin. He kills when the sin of a group us complete or filled up in His eyes not in yours.

    2. “Surely the Lord God does nothing,
      without revealing his secret
      to his servants the prophets.
      8 The lion has roared;
      who will not fear?
      The Lord God has spoken;
      who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3)
      Within a generation. If the people in Rome (particularly the leaders of the Curia) don’t repent of their homosexuality (sitting down in sackcloth and ashes) and end their desire to give more accommodation to homosexuality, then within a generation Rome will suffer the fate of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Thus says the Lord, God of Hosts.
      i post this with the greatest sense of responsibility.
      “he who has ears to hear let he hear”.

    3. Cp sho,

      (1) What’s your basis for this “prophecy”?
      (2) How do you know it is going to happen in one generation?
      (3) Why has it not already happened?

      The Church has seen far worse in her history. This strikes me as a form of generational narcissism, assuming that all prophecies are about one’s own generation, and that things are as bad as they’ve ever been. Read up on tradition, and it will disavail you of this bad theology.



    4. cp sho,
      Your Amos quote is about biblical prophets whose line ends with the Bible. There is a charismatic gift of prophecy mentioned in the NT but after two thousand years, that charism has been about the micro level not about macro matters such as destruction of cities. You are alone too much away from Christians with common sense. We don’t like the active gay clergy at Rome but they are maybe 10% probably. Why hasn’t God destroyed NYC for an horrendous abortion rate? Because neither Jericho nor Jerusalem were destroyed for sin but rather for sin being complete in God’s eyes.

  5. St. Matthew the Evangelist warns us, the readers, to try and “understand”,
    “So when you see the Abomination of Desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand)” – Matthew 24 v 15.

    St. John the Evangelist also warned us,
    “if anyone has an ear, let him hear:10 If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if any one slays with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the “endurance” and faith of the saints” – Revelation 13 v 9 – 10.

    And again in another place, he warned us, “Here is a call for the “endurance” of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” – Revelation 14 v 12.
    We need to wake up and prepare. The season that is coming will require a lot of “endurance” from faithful Catholics. The warning is designed to put us on notice so that our faith in the church founded on the solid Rock of St. Peter (and his brother Apostles and his brother Prophets) will not fail when we see Rome (the City of the Seven Hills) go down as Jerusalem went down in 70 AD. Within a generation.

  6. I look at the top seven in the Curia and i see the Abomination of Desolation standing in the Holy Place. We need prayers, maybe there is still opportunity for repentance. The signs are not good,

  7. cp sho,
    At the time of the Borgia Pope, Alexander VI, there were parties in the Vatican and that Pope was sleeping with a married. 25 year old and had seven children. A little later Pope Julius II had three daughters that preceded his papacy but he was public about them.. A little later Pope Paul III had four children but when he was prior to ordination but while
    having benefices. Tell us why God didn’t detroy Rome then.

    1. Was any of these gentlemen having “gay” sex or indulging in “gay” orgies? Was any of these gentlemen trying to make gay sex and gay relationship legitimate in the context of the Catholic Church?

      The point is when the chastisement of Rome begin to unfold, hold on firmly to your Catholic faith. It will be a very difficult time for faithful Catholics.

  8. Maybe your faith is too wedded to hierarchy. I’ve been criticizing the new death penalty position of these last three Popes for years and the massive conformity of every Catholic writer and his mother to it. Keep the quintessential core of Catholicism distinct from the outer crust and you’ll be safer. The real core doesn’t change but most people overstate the real core. St. Antoninus wrote that most of the curia at his time in the 15th century had concubines but he did not lose his faith because it didn’t depend on humans in the Church.
    Judas was 8.5% of the apostles and Christ guarded him which means prayer inter alia…” those whom that gavest me I GUARDED and not one of them perished except the son of perdition”. If Christ had an 8.5% failure rate, never be surprised at anything.

  9. ” those whom that gavest me I GUARDED and not one of them perished except the son of perdition”. If Christ had an 8.5% failure rate, never be surprised at anything.

    Thanks Bill. A very good point to remember.

  10. Awlms,
    Here’s Christ in Jn. 13:18: ” I am not speaking of all of you. I know those whom I have chosen. But so that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘The one who ate my food has raised his heel against me.”
    Here’s the psalm Christ referred to: Psalm 41:10…” Even my trusted friend,
    who ate my bread, has raised his heel against me.”
    Few mention ever in homilies that Christ permitted Himself to trust Judas as a FRIEND during a period when Judas was acting trustworthy despite his pilfering at times from the communal funds. There were signs of goodness in Judas AT certain moments and Christ allowed Himself in those moments to love him as a friend. That trust set Christ up for turmoil at the Last Supper when He began to talk of Judas….” He became troubled in spirit, and testified and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, that one of you will betray Me.”
    You don’t get troubled in spirit if a pure enemy is about to betray you. You have to love someone alot to get troubled in spirit. Christ allowed Himself to love even Judas and allowed Himself to pay the price of that love while foreknowing the whole sequence.

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